Judicial Pendency

Judicial Pendency

The idea of Regional Supreme Court BenchesPriority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Debate over additional SC benches

Demand for regional benches

  • Recently, Vice-President in his speech has suggested that the Supreme Court institute four regional Benches to tackle the enormous backlog of cases, and to ensure their speedy disposal.
  • He also endorsed the recommendation of the Law Commission of India that the top court should be split into two divisions.
  • These ideas are not new; apart from the LC, they were mooted also in the Congress manifesto for this year’s Lok Sabha elections.
  • But they have not developed into a serious debate, and the Supreme Court itself has been opposed to these ideas.

Core of the problem: Pendency of cases

  • In the early decades, the Supreme Court of India, too, functioned largely as a constitutional court, with some 70-80 judgments being delivered every year by Constitution Benches of five or more judges.
  • They ruled, as per Article 145(3) of the Constitution, on matters “involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of [the] Constitution”.
  • This number has now come down to 10-12.

Why so much pendency in the apex court?

  • Due to their heavy workload, judges mostly sit in two- or three-judge Benches to dispose of all kinds of cases; these include several non-Constitutional and relatively petty matters.
  • On some occasions, even PILs on demands such as Sardar jokes should be banned, or that Muslims should be sent out of the country, come before the Supreme Court.
  • This heavy workload is due to the fact that India’s Supreme Court is perhaps the world’s most powerful court, with a very wide jurisdiction.
  • It hears matters between the Centre and states, and between two or more states; rules on civil and criminal appeals; and advises the President on questions of law and fact.
  • On the question of violation of FRs, anyone can approach the Supreme Court directly.
  • The result: more than 65,000 cases are pending in the Supreme Court, and disposal of appeals takes many years.

What the Law Commission said

  • Back in March 1984, the 10th Law Commission of India (95th Report) under Justice K K Mathew recommended that “the SC should consist of two Divisions, namely (a) Constitutional Division, and (b) Legal Division”.
  • Only matters of Constitutional law may be assigned to the proposed Constitutional Division.
  • The 11th LC under the chairmanship of Justice D A Desai (125th Report, 1988) “reiterate(d) that the recommendation for splitting the SC into two halves deserves to be implemented”.

Demand for 4 benches

  • The 18th LC under Justice A R Lakshmanan (229th Report, 2009) recommended that “a Constitution Bench be set up at Delhi to deal with constitutional and other allied issues”.
  • It recommended for four Cassation Benches be set up all four zones to deal with all appellate work arising out of the orders/judgments of the High Courts of the particular region.
  • Indeed, many countries around the world have Courts of Cassation that decide cases involving non-Constitutional disputes and appeals from the lower level of courts.
  • Standing Committees of Parliament recommended in 2004, 2005, and 2006 that Benches of the court be set up elsewhere.
  • In 2008, the Committee suggested that at least one Bench be set up on a trial basis in Chennai.
  • These are courts of last resort that have the power to reverse decisions of lower courts. (Cassation: annulment, cancellation, reversal).

Who can constitute additional benches?

  • Supreme Court Rules give the Chief Justice of India the power to constitute Benches — he can, for instance, have a Constitution Bench of seven judges in New Delhi, and set up smaller Benches in, say, four or six places across the country.

Argument for

  • It has been pointed out that Article 39A says that the state shall secure that the operation of the legal system promotes justice, on a basis of equal opportunity.
  • It shall ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by reason of economic or other disabilities.
  • It is obvious that travelling to New Delhi or engaging expensive Supreme Court counsel to pursue a case is beyond the means of most litigants.

Arguments against

  • The Supreme Court has not agreed with the proposal, which in its opinion will dilute the prestige of the court.
  • Article 130 says that the Supreme Court shall sit in Delhi or in such other place or places, as the CJI may, with the approval of the President, from time to time, appoint.
Judicial Pendency

[op-ed snap] The hard realities of India’s fast-track courtsop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Relevance and limitations of fast track courts

The government has proposed to set up 1,023 fast-track courts to clear the cases under the POCSO Act. Supreme Court directed that districts with more than 100 cases pending under the POCSO Act need to set up special courts that can deal specifically with these cases.

Facts about fast track courts

  1. Fast-track courts (FTCs) have been around for a long time, with the first ones being established in the year 2000
  2. According to the Ministry of Law and Justice, at the end of March, there were 581 FTCs operational in the country, with approximately 5.9 lakh pending cases
  3. 56% of the States and Union Territories, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, had no FTCs
  4. 870 crore was released by the Centre between 2000-2001 and 2010-2011 towards these FTCs
  5. Increasing the number of courts as a recourse to deal with the mounting backlog has been a common practice.

Challenges of fast track courts

  1. Though large sums of money and attention are being devoted to creating additional posts, little is being done to identify and address the prevalent systemic issues.
  2. Without fully optimising the current mechanisms and resolving the problems, sanctioning more judges may not provide the intended results.
  3. In a survey of FTCs conducted by National Law University Delhi, it was observed that there is a huge variation in the kinds of cases handled by these courts across States. 
  4. Certain States primarily allocating rape and sexual offense cases to them and other States allocating various other matters.
  5. Several FTCs lacked technological resources to conduct audio and video recordings of the victims and many of them did not have regular staff.
  6. A per data collated from Supreme Court’s ‘Court News’ between 2010 and 2017, in Karnataka, the number of working judges increased between 2012 and 2017 but pendency did not reduce. 

Way ahead

  1. Inadequate staff and IT infrastructure, delay in getting reports from the understaffed forensic science laboratories, frivolous adjournments and over-listing of cases in the cause list are some of the variables.
  2. Identifying systemic issues and addressing the concerns is important for timely disposal of cases
  3. Designating special judges from the current pool of judges would increase substantially the workload of the remaining judges.
  4. For the FTCs to become successful, States will need to take stock of the issues at the ground level. 
  5. States should engage with the principal and senior district judges to get a sense of issues the courts are facing in various districts. 
  6. Attention must be paid to both the metropolitan and far-flung non-metropolitan areas.
  7. Critical issues such as inadequate court staff, improper physical and IT infrastructure and understaffed forensic labs, which affect the day-to-day functioning of the FTCs, must be comprehensively addressed.
Judicial Pendency

[op-ed snap] Bigger and better: On number of Supreme Court judgesop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Judicial vacancies and pendency


Union Cabinet took a decision to raise the strength of the Supreme Court from 31 to 34, including the Chief Justice of India. Any move to increase the strength of the judiciary ought to be welcomed.

Reasons for increasing strength

  1. Availability of judges is not increasing in proportion to the institution of cases
  2. This will help in dealing with the large pendency of cases: 59,331 cases on July 11
  3. The law that fixes the number of judges in the highest court was last amended in 2009 to raise the figure from 26 to 31
  4. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had written to the PM recently, highlighting the problem of paucity of judges, due to which he was unable to constitute enough Constitution Benches to decide important questions of law

Problems with Supreme Court

  1. Should the Supreme Court go into the correctness of every decision of every high court
  2. Valuable time is being taken up by mundane matters that do not impinge on larger questions that involve interpretation of laws and constitutional provisions
    1. Routine bail matters land up in the Supreme Court within days of persons being arrested
    2. Every major crime or disaster seems to invite public interest litigation which mentions the matter before the Chief Justice for urgent hearing. The court is being invited to even oversee flood relief work.

Way ahead

  1. A mere increase in the court’s strength may not be enough to liquidate the burgeoning docket
  2. Reasonable restraint on the duration of oral arguments and disciplined adherence to a schedule of hearings may be needed
  3. Preserve the apex court’s primary role as the ultimate arbiter of constitutional questions and statutory interpretation. All other questions involving a final decision on routine matters, especially civil cases ought to be considered by a mechanism that will not detract from the court’s primary role
  4. Some countries have brought in a clear division at the level of the apex judiciary by having separate constitutional courts, which limit themselves to deciding questions of constitutional importance
  5. 229th Report of the Law Commission suggested a new system under which there will be one Constitution Bench in Delhi, and four ‘Cassation Benches’ for different regions of the country. This may also increase access to justice to those living in far-flung areas of the country
Judicial Pendency

Mediation and Out-of-Court settlementPriority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Out of court settlement mechanisms in India

  • The attempt at mediation and an amicable out-of-court settlement of a famous temple dispute has failed.

Legal basis of Mediation

  • Negotiation or mediation is an accepted part of the procedure to resolve disputes.
  • Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure asks judges to ensure that all avenues to resolve a dispute outside the court have been exhausted.
  • The section reads: Where it appears to the Court that there exist elements of a settlement which may be acceptable to the parties, the Court shall formulate the terms of settlement.
  • The Court may reformulate the terms of a possible settlement and refer the same for- (a) Arbitration (b) conciliation (c) judicial settlement including settlement through Lok Adalat or (d) mediation.
Judicial Pendency

Zero Pendency Courts ProjectPriority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Zero Pendency Courts Project

Mains level : Judicial Pendency in India

  • A Delhi High Court’s pilot project report on the backlog of cases has said the Capital needed 43 more judges above the current strength of 143 to clear all the pending cases in one year.
  • The ‘Zero Pendency Courts Project’ is a one-of-its-kind project in India aimed to study the life cycle of cases to come up with optimal timelines for cases.

Zero Pendency Courts Project

  • Prompted by the urgent need to ensure timely justice, the Delhi High Court started the pilot project from January 2017 in certain subordinate courts in Delhi.
  • It is one of its kind in India aimed to study the life cycles of cases to come up with optimal timelines for cases.
  • The primary goal of the project was to study the flow of cases in the absence of backlog.
  • The inspiration for the “zero pendency court project” was a remark by Justice M.N. Venkatachalaiah (former Chief Justice of India).

Cost of Pendency

  • As recently as in 2016, it was estimated that judicial delays cost India around 1.5% of its Gross Domestic Product annually.
  • The report noted that the number of criminal cases in Delhi is far more than the number of civil cases.
  • As on March 20, 2019, there were 5.5 lakh criminal cases and 1.8 lakh civil cases pending in subordinate courts in Delhi.
  • It said the highest amount of time per hearing on average was spent on the final arguments stage followed by the final order or judgment.
  • A considerable amount of time is taken on dictation, researching on case laws etc. before pronouncing the final judgment. Thus, a lot of time is spent on each of the hearings.

Reason for delays

  • The reason for delays, the report said was the absence of witnesses.
  • Evidence stage forms an important of a case. Absence of witnesses during the evidence stage causes a serious impediment to the progress of the case.
  • Also, unnecessary adjournments sought by the advocates or the parties at various stages in a case delay the proceedings, thus prolonging the case life.
  • Additionally, there is a delay in the service of summons, especially to outstation parties.
Judicial Pendency

[op-ed snap] Technology for better case managementop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Rising pendency in the judiciary and ways to reduce it


Pending cases in the judiciary

  1. With over 27 million cases pending in subordinate courts across the country, there is a need to look beyond traditional summary statistics
  2. At the national conference on “Initiatives to Reduce Pendency and Delays in Judicial System” in July, the Chief Justice of India spoke about the immense pendency in courts and measures to tackle it
  3. He highlighted the need for effective case management

Case management suggestions

  1. Monitor the progress of cases based on urgency and the type of case
  2. Time limits to dispose certain types of cases
  3. Not allow dilution of statutorily prescribed timelines or guidelines for adjournments
  4. Understand why some courts perform well despite a shortage of judges and adopt such courts as role models
  5. Committees at the high court level to be more proactive and functional

SC initiatives

  1. The Supreme Court pushed for the implementation of case flow management rules in 2005
  2. These rules provide timelines for the disposal of cases based on their subject matter and mandate a bifurcation of cases listed for the day into two lists
  • the first list to be called before the judge on substantive matters
  • the second list to be called by the registrar or deputy registrar on procedural matters

Gaps in implementation

  1. The first gap is the accurate recording of required court data
  2. The second gap is with regard to systems that make such monitoring possible

How to address these gaps?

  1. It is of utmost importance that the right tools be used to systematically and continuously analyse the data to keep the judges informed of the progress of cases pending before them
  2. Technological interventions can also be made to ensure that cases are listed before judges in a scientific manner and take into consideration certain parameters, such as the age of the case, the subject matter, the number of days between each hearing, and the timeline within which it has to be disposed
  3. The right analytics tools can also be developed in a manner that helps the judges monitor cases based on parameters such as how long an accused has been in judicial custody, cases that can affect the general public or cases that have been long pending due to the accused remaining absconding
  4. The head of each court establishment—either the principal district and sessions judge or the chief justice of a high court will need to take ownership of monitoring the court data and driving necessary changes

Way Forward

  1. There is a need to enable effective monitoring, curb repeated adjournments, and bring to fruition established timelines
  2. The digitization of case records has now opened up avenues for the use of technology in ensuring a smooth flow of cases
  3. Even the best tools and technology will be unable to bring about any change without the requisite human intervention to push people in the system towards better practices
Judicial Pendency

[pib] CJI launches various applications to facilitate Litigants and LawyersPrelims OnlyPriority 1SC Judgements


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: e-filing, e-pay, NSTEP, NJGD, WAN

Mains level: ICT measures to reduce Judicial Pendency



  1. The CJI has launched various applications for the benefit of the litigants and lawyers at an event in the Supreme Court of India.
  2. Three applications of e-filing, e-pay, and NSTEP (National Service and Tracking of Electronic Processes) created under the eCourts project were launched during the occasion.
  3. The Department of Justice is administering a Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity project connecting all the district and taluka courts through BSNL in a single network grid under the eCourts Project.


  1. The eFiling application will facilitate efficient administration of Judicial System, as it will ease pressure on filing counters and will speed up work flow processing.
  2. Data entry will be more accurate which will help to take data driven decisions in court administration.
  3. It will start building digital repositories which will auto generate paper books and can be quickly transmitted to Higher Courts which will reduce delays.
  4. The application will help reduce touch point of litigants will also result in more productivity of staff members and can send documents for service to other locations or mail addresses.


  1. The E-Pay application at ecourts.gov.in is a unified portal wherein facility to pay online court fees is provided.
  2. The platform is user friendly which can be used with very little self help. E-Payment is a safe and secure, quick and easy way to pay court fees .
  3. At present, the facility will be made operational in two states of Maharashtra and Haryana.
  4. OTP authentication provides secure way to financial transactions and one can get instant acknowledgement through SMS and print receipt.
  5. The application is beneficial to judicial administration since verification of court fees is more easy, secure and transparent and accurate figures of court fees collected can be generated for any court, district or State.

National Service and Tracking of Electronic Processes (NSTEP)

  1. It is a collaboration between Case Information Software (CIS), Web portal and Mobile Application.
  2. It is a transparent and secure system for transmission of process from one location to another, and shall address delays in process serving particularly for processes beyond jurisdiction.
  3. NSTEP will lead to secured auto generation of processes with unique QR Code through CIS, publishing processes on portal and transmission of processes to other court complexes in the country and ultimately to mobile app of the bailiffs.
  4. A facility to send electronic processes directly to registered mail of the addressee by secured mechanism, to upload documents associated with process and facilities like tracking GPS where process is served or otherwise, obtaining photograph and on screen signature after service is provided.
  5. Immediate communication of status of service of process to Court and stake holders will be done and there is a secured dedicated system for transmission of processes from one district to another or from one state to another with travel time in seconds.
  6. The status of service can also be tracked on public portal. It will empower litigants to take immediate follow up action which will reduce delays.


E-Courts Project

  1. The eCourts Project was conceptualized on the basis of the “National Policy and Action Plan for Implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Indian Judiciary – 2005”.
  2. The plan was formulated by Ecommittee of the Supreme Court.
  3. The eCourts Mission Mode Project is a Pan-India Project monitored and funded by Department of Justice for the District Courts across the country.
  4. In 2013 CJI launched the e-Courts National portal ecourts.gov.in of the eCourts Project.
  5. More than 2852 Districts and Taluka Court Complexes have secured their presence on the NJDG and are providing Case Status, Cause lists online with many of them also uploading orders/judgments.
  6. The data of more than 7 crore pending and disposed of cases and 3.3 crore orders/judgments of District Courts in India is available on NJDG at present.

National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG)

  1. The NJDG for district & subordinate courts has been created as an online platform which now provides information relating to judicial proceedings/decisions of 16,089 computerized district and subordinate courts of the country.
  2. The portal provides online information to litigants such as details of case registration, cause list, case status, daily orders, and final judgments.
  3. Currently litigants can access case status information in respect of over 10 crore cases and more than 7 crore orders / judgments.
  4. Case information is thus available speedily to the petitioners and respondents.
  5. The eCourts portal and National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG) also serve as tools of efficient court and case management for judiciary which aids in disposal of pending cases.

Wide Area Network (WAN)

The Department of Justice is administering a Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity project connecting all the district and taluka courts through BSNL in a single network grid under the eCourts Project.

Judicial Pendency

[op-ed snap] How to list cases betterop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: High pendency rates across judiciary and how to bring them down


Rising pendency across the judiciary

  1. Chief Justice of India recently flagged rising pendency in appeals lying with High Courts based on the findings of the Supreme Court’s Arrears Committee
  2. He has since directed High Courts to prepare action plans for disposal of five and 10-year-old cases
  3. He has also asked for High Court Arrears Committees to periodically review the situation

Need to revisit  judicial performance & accountability

  1. For decades, the primary measure of court efficiency has been case disposal rates
  2. Public perception of court performance and individual judges now hinges on the number of cases pending before them
  3. This also puts pressure on judges to dispose of as many cases as possible
  4. It leads to a problematic situation as it does not consider the quality of adjudication itself
  5. It also does not shed light on the exact nature of cases that have remained pending the longest, or the stage at which pendency recurs the most

Why such problem arises?

Listing patterns of cases in courts are generally erratic

  • The number of matters listed for the same courtroom range from 1 to 126 a month

A large number of cases listed in a day means that inevitably, matters listed towards the end of the day remained left over

Old pending matters barely make it to court

  • These cases were listed for the second half of the day but would eventually never come up for the hearing because of a large number of other urgent and routine matters listed
  • Advocates also tend to become disinterested in older cases in which clients have given up or stopped paying

What can judiciary do?

  1. Courts themselves must start analyzing historical case data and introduce focused interventions to counter specific case types or stages at which the case pipeline is clogged
  2. Case listing needs to be made more systematic
  3. Cause list preparation can be made more scientific if supported by a consistent study of the variance in the number of cases listed across courts, identifying the exact stages at which cases are clogging the pipeline for the longest duration, and the nature of cases left over
  4. The cause list should have cases methodically distributed by type and stage
  5. Disposing of old and pending matters must be prioritized
  6. A solution would be to implement a policy where no adjournments are granted for frivolous reasons

Benefits of scientific listing

  1. It will introduce standardisation across courts and help disincentivise judges from using discretionary practices in the number and nature of cases listed before them
  2. It will promote fairness — a reasonable number of cases would be listed every day, and distributed across the day based on stage and case type
  3. There will be better quality of adjudication

Way forward

  1. The quality and efficiency of court functioning can be improved with simple tweaks
  2. It is time that the judiciary as an institution opens itself to the services of competent external agencies that can help them record, manage and analyse their data better, to build and sustain a healthy institution
Judicial Pendency

[op-ed snap] The non-trivial costs of a slow judiciaryop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: EODB report, Economic Survey

Mains level: Measures required to improve EODB ranking of India


Effects of judiciary on various processes

  1. Efficient courts are the backbone of the modern, hyper-specialized economy
  2. A sound judiciary is a key to enforcing laws and creating trust in the economy
  3. It allows economic exchange between complete strangers by deterring fraud and increasing the incentives for fair play

Consequences of a slow judiciary

  1. A slow judiciary with a large number of pending cases reduces trust in the economy
  2. It also makes people fearful

Reducing pendency critical for Ease of doing business

  1. The Economic Survey 2017-18 has made a compelling argument that addressing pendency, delays and backlogs in the appellate and judicial arenas is very crucial
  2. It is the next frontier for improving ease of doing business (EODB) in the country

EODB report by the World Bank

  1. India ranked a dismal 164 in the category of enforcing contracts in latest EODB report
  2. It takes, on average, almost four years to enforce a standard sales agreement in a local court
  3. It also costs up to 31% of the claim’s value

Direct correlation with judicial capacity

  1. India’s poor ranking in enforcing contracts relates directly to its judicial capacity
  2. A slow judiciary forces participants to adopt loss-minimizing strategies that are not always efficient

What does this lead to?

  1. This result in the cost structure of the entire economy to go up
  2. People start including risk premium in the original cost of transactions
  3. It also deters firms from making relationship-specific investments
  4. These are the investments for products that have lower value in alternative uses than they have in the intended use between the parties involved

Developing ways around this problem

  1. In many industries, firms vertically integrate in order to align their incentives in the different stages of production
  2. Sellers require a security amount from the buyer
  3. Firms rely on repeat business and reputation norms to discipline the actors
  4. Some industries also follow private rules and use private tribunals to solve disputes

Research confirms this phenomenon

  1. A research on 25 Indian states and Union territories from 1971 to 1996 found that a weak judiciary has a negative effect on economic and social development
  2. The location of a contract-intensive industry in a state having faster courts is highly predictive of its future growth

Effects of weak judiciary on other spheres

  1. A weak judiciary has a negative effect on economic and social development
  2. It leads to
  • lower per capita income
  • higher poverty rates
  • lower private economic activity
  • poorer public infrastructure
  • higher crime rates and
  • more industrial riots

Way forward

  1. The present government has been vocal about improving India’s EODB ranking
  2. It should pay heed to the recommendations in the Economic Survey
  3. Efforts should be made to decrease judicial pendency and increasing number of judges across all courts


Ease of Doing Business report

  1. It is published by World Bank
  2. Economies are ranked on their ease of doing business, from 1–190
  3. A high ease of doing business ranking means the regulatory environment is more conducive to the starting and operation of a local firm
  4. These reports provide data on the ease of doing business, rank each location, and recommend reforms to improve performance in each of the indicator areas
  5. The Doing Business project, launched in 2002, looks at domestic small and medium-size companies and measures the regulations applying to them through their life cycle
Judicial Pendency

[op-ed snap] The price of justiceop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Judicial Pendency is a serious and much debated issue. Complement this newscard with our earlier newscards on the same(read attached story for reading them).


What is the issue?

  1. In democracies, elected governments often view a strong and independent judiciary with suspicion
  2. For example, in the 1930s, US President F.D. Roosevelt threatened to pack the country’s Supreme Court with judges who conformed to his ideology
  3. The executive(around the world), tries to keep the judiciary in check. One such way is to keep the judiciary’s budgetary allocation to a bare minimum

India’s situation on the same

  1. For 2017-18, the Union budget allocated a meagre Rs 1,744 crore to the judiciary — about 0.4 per cent of the total budget
  2. It is primarily on account of a parsimonious(very unwilling to spend money) government that many cases are pending in courts
  3. Poor manpower and crumbling infrastructure, coupled with a boom in litigation, made the judiciary underperform
  4. As a result, courts were buried under cases. New laws were enacted by Parliament without a commensurate increase in judicial officers or courts
  5. For example, dishonour of cheques was made a criminal offence in 1988
  6. There are an estimated 38 lakh such cases pending before magistrates across India
  7. This took away manpower from other cases, with a cascading effect on pendency

‘Neglected’ by the government

  1. As of April 2017, there were 430 posts of judges and additional judges lying vacant in high courts, and 5,000 posts vacant at the district level and lower
  2. When suggestions to fill vacancies are made by the chief justice, the government’s response is the same: They do not have the money for it
    (By what miracle does the executive hope to reduce the pendency of cases without filling vacancies?)

Stressful working in Indian Courts and how it affects common population

  1. For anyone criticising the judiciary, they have to see only two things: Crumbling infrastructure and the number of cases dealt with by judges
  2. In the Supreme Court (SC), each judge is tasked with reading more than 60 cases on a Monday and Friday, that is, at least 120 on two days
  3. On other days, judges may perhaps have to read fewer cases but hear longer arguments
  4. Unlike a bureaucrat or politician, whose work is primarily to sanction or implement government policy through an army of officers, judicial decision-making is a complex, time-consuming process
  5. It directly affects the rights and livelihoods of persons, which in turn requires hearings on facts, legal precedent and the arguments of lawyers of both parties

Helping hand through tribunals

  1. Constituting tribunals headed by retired judges is not enough, since cases eventually travel to a criminal court, and then to a high court or the Supreme Court

The way forward

  1. Today, the lower courts (except in Delhi) are worse than bus stands
  2. Even high courts are bursting on account of the lack of infrastructure
  3. It is time the government loosened its purse strings and gave the judiciary a substantial hike
Judicial Pendency

Short on judges, justice a dish served cold


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Appointment process in Judiciary, Rankin Committee Report, Law Commission of India

Mains level: Pendency of cases in judiciary and way forward

Indian judiciary in dire straits

  1. Nearly 2.6 crore cases are pending in the district and subordinate courts across the country
  2. There are only 16,874 judges to try them — that’s around 1,540 cases per judge
  3. Vacancies are another problem, with 5,580 or 25% of posts lying empty against the sanctioned strength of 22,454 judges

Reform efforts in the judicial sector

  1. Most States and their High Courts do not adhere to the schedule laid down by the Supreme Court for filling up judicial vacancies
  2. The recruitment process does not take place in a regular and timely manner in a number of States
  3. In its judgment in the All India Judges’ Association case, the Supreme Court had outlined three ways of appointing district judges
  4. As per the Supreme Court, a two-tier process comprising a written exam and an interview should take 153 days, whereas a three-tier examination procedure comprising a preliminary exam, a written test, and an interview should take 273 days

Systemic defects in the appointment process

  1. Exams are not conducted frequently enough to fill vacancies as they arise
  2. Even when they are, the High Courts are often unable to find enough meritorious candidates to fill the vacancies advertised
  3. Unclear recruitment procedures and difficulties in coordination between the High Courts and the State Public Service Commission also frequently give rise to disputes and litigation surrounding recruitment, further stalling the process

SC initiated reform

  1. Last year, the Supreme Court’s Centre for Research and Planning came up with an extensive research on the manpower requirement of district courts across the country
  2. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court had initiated its own public interest case to look into the viability of a centralized selection mechanism for appointment of judicial officers in subordinate judiciary

Other measures

  1. The earliest attempt to address the issue of backlog was in the Rankin Committee Report, 1924-2012
  2. It concluded that quality of judicial administration can be improved only when the problem of arrears is tackled
  3. The 120th Law Commission of India report on Manpower Planning in Judiciary, 1987, contained significant suggestions for reducing pendency and, for the first time, suggested a judge strength fixation formula
  4. It suggested that the judge-population ratio in India be increased immediately from the then ratio of 10 judges to 50 judges per million
  5. The report said since the demographic factor is the predominant consideration while delimiting legislative boundaries, demographics should be the basis for fixing judge strength
Judicial Pendency

[op-ed snap] How to make Indian courts more efficientop-ed snap

Image Source


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The article deals with an all time hot topic of Judicial Pendency.



  1. The article talks about the problem of ‘Pendency’ in Indian Judicial System

Clearing out of Long Pending Cases

  1. Lower courts in Kerala, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Chandigarh have disposed of almost all cases that had been pending for a decade or more
  2. It is a welcoming and surprising news
  3. Today, there are only a total of 11,000 cases pending for over 10 years in these four states and the Union territory of Chandigarh
  4. This is impressive given that the national pendency count is at around 2.3 million cases
  5. Delhi, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka are also close to clearing out long-pending cases

Lessons that Indian Judicial System can learn from lower courts of Punjab and Haryana

  1. The high court of Punjab and Haryana has jurisdiction over the lower courts of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh
  2. Almost a decade ago, it set up a case management system—i.e. a mechanism to monitor every case from filing to disposal
  3. It also began to categorize writ petitions based on their urgency
  4. In addition, it set annual targets and action plans for judicial officers to dispose of old cases,
  5. And began a quarterly performance review to ensure that cases were not disposed of with undue haste
  6. All these measures ushered in a degree of transparency and accountability in the system, the results of which are now apparent

Judicial Case Management

  1. In this system, the court sets a timetable for the case and the judge actively monitors progress
  2. This marks a fundamental shift in the management of cases—the responsibility for which moves from the litigants and their lawyers to the court

Measures from the Law Commission of India’s Report

  1. The Law Commission of India in its 230th report has also offered a long list of measures to deal with the pendency of cases
  2. These include
    (1) providing strict guidelines for the grant of adjournments
    (2) curtailing vacation time in the higher judiciary
    (3) reducing the time for oral arguments unless the case involves a complicated question of law
    (4) and framing clear and decisive judgements to avoid further litigation

The Way Forward

  1. The courts should also seriously consider incorporating technology into the system
  2. Digitizing courts records has been a good start in this context
  3. Just like automation powered by Artificial Intelligence is already helping doctors, it can also be leveraged to assist judges and lawyers
Judicial Pendency

Retired judges to wield the gavel again II

  1. It will be used for enhancing the strength of judges to deal with the backlog of cases for a period of two years or the age of sixty five years
  2. It will be in effect until a five plus zero pendency is achieved
  3. ‘Five plus zero’ is an initiative by which cases pending over five years are taken up on priority basis and their numbers are brought down to zero
  4. At the Conference it was resolved that all HCs shall assign top-most priority for disposal of cases which are pending for more than five years
Judicial Pendency

Retired judges to wield the gavel again I

  1. Event: The Union government has agreed to a resolution passed by the judiciary in the Chief Justices and Chief Ministers Annual Conference in 2016
  2. What: To use the services of retired HC judges with proven integrity and track record to tackle pendency of cases
  3. Constitution: The provision to use the services of retired judges is open to the Chief Justices of HCs under Article 224A of the Constitution
  4. It also requires the previous consent of the President as an extraordinary measure to tide over case pile-ups
Judicial Pendency

No abnormal increase in High Court vacancies: Centre

  1. What: The government has said that it has increased the sanctioned strength of High Court judges from 906 (in 2014) to 1,079 (in 2016)
  2. According to the govt there has been no abnormal increase in number of vacacncies
  3. Why: In response to the SC saying that vacancies are not being filled
Judicial Pendency

[op-ed snap] Time to decongest our prisonsop-ed snapSC Judgements

  1. Theme: Overcrowding of prisons in India.
  2. Background: The prisons in Delhi and nine States have an occupancy rate of 150 per cent of their capacity. The average occupancy in all jails in the country was 117.4 per cent, as of December 31, 2014.
  3. Issues: Cramped conditions in prison militate against the prisoner’s right to good health and dignity.
  4. Further, an excessive prison population creates problems of hygiene, sanitation, management and discipline.
  5. Of equal concern are the available staff strength and the level of training they receive.
  6. Another point of concern is that a little over two-thirds of India’s prisoners are undertrials. Poverty remains the main reason for this, as most prisoners are unable to execute bail bonds or provide sureties.
  7. Recent developments: In February and May this year, the Supreme Court passed a series of interim orders to the States on measures to decongest prisons.
  8. But, no State or Union Territory has prepared a plan of action yet.
  9. On the issue of large proportion of undertrials in jails, efforts are being made to invoke Section 436A of the Code of Criminal Procedure and release those undertrials on personal bonds, who have completed half of the maximum jail term specified for their offences. But much more needs to be done.
Judicial Pendency

SC directions for managing jailsSC Judgements

  1. Context: SC judgment on a suo motu PIL on conditions of inmates in Indian prisons
  2. SC: Directed the Ministry of Women and Child Development to get the manual ready by November 30 and present it in court
  3. It also ordered the Ministry of Home Affairs to receive and collate plans of action for de-congesting jails from the various States and Union Territories in the next six months
  4. Moreover, it directed the Govt to prepare a viable Plan of Action within the next six months and hand it over to the apex court by March 31, 2017
Judicial Pendency

No action taken to improve condition of jails

  1. Context: SC judgment on a suo motu PIL on conditions of inmates in Indian prisons
  2. The court found that authorities have defied repeated orders of SC- the latest ones being on February 7 and May 5 of this year- to draw a viable plan of action to de-congest jails
  3. Instead, prison authorities have banked on ad hoc proposals like the construction of additional barracks or jails, and these proposals have no time limits for implementation
  4. Also, the Ministry of Women and Child Development is yet to frame a Manual for Juveniles in Custody under the recently amended Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015
Judicial Pendency

SC says jails are overcrowded by 150 %, laments plight of inmatesSC Judgements

“Fundamental rights and human rights of people, however they may be placed, cannot be ignored only because of their adverse circumstances, says SC”

  1. Context: SC judgment on a suo motu PIL on conditions of inmates in Indian prisons
  2. SC: It is not only tragic but also pathetic to find that prisons in the national capital, along with half a dozen States across the country, are overcrowded by over 150%
  3. Blamed Delhi for paying little or no attention to the fundamental rights of under trials and convicts,
Judicial Pendency

Relieve judiciary of avoidable burden: CJI

  1. CJI Thakur: Urged the Law Ministry to devise a mechanism to relieve the judicial system of the avoidable burden
  2. Burden: Arising out of sheer apathy, indifference or incapacity of the Govt and its departments to take certain decisions
  3. Panel: Also asked the government to set up a panel, comprising former judges
  4. Why? to decide whether or not to fight a case against any citizen when the issue could be resolved outside court
  5. The CJI referred to certain unnecessary cases which could be screened before reaching court and solved at the administrative level itself
Judicial Pendency

Aims and objectives of Access to Justice Project

  1. Aims: Supporting justice delivery systems in improving their capacities in order to serve the people, in empowering ordinary people to demand improved services & to access their rights and entitlements
  2. Also, encouraging innovative activities to enhance legal awareness of vulnerable populations, and their ability to seek redress
  3. Objectives: To address the legal needs of the marginalised and vulnerable sections of society, particularly women, children, and SC/ST communities, who do not have the requisite means to ensure that their rights are guaranteed
Judicial Pendency

State of Indian Judiciary: Rising pendency of cases and workload of judges

  1. Between 25 million and 30 million cases are estimated to be pending across the Supreme Court, 24 high courts and the subordinate courts
  2. The economic cost of the delay is pegged at 0.5% of GDP
  3. Reason for pendency: Growing number of vacancies in judicial positions
  4. Background: The Supreme Court had earlier expressed displeasure at the Centre for non-execution of the collegium’s decision to transfer and appoint chief justices and judges in high courts
Judicial Pendency

Can filing of routine appeals not stop, SC asks law panel- II

  1. Bypassing HC: Also to consider the desirability of laws that allow parties, including the government, to file appeals against tribunal orders in the Supreme Court bypassing the High Courts
  2. Action: Ordered the Centre to file an Action Taken Report on the Law Commission’s recommendations & also a three-judge Bench would hear the Centre in November 2017
  3. Context: The judgment follows Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur’s emotional appeal in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the work burden of judges has become humanly unbearable
Judicial Pendency

Can filing of routine appeals not stop, SC asks law panel- I

  1. SC: ‘No other Supreme Court presents such an undignified sight’- SC quoted in a judgment
  2. Why? To describe its chagrin at its crowded courtrooms and corridors besieged by private litigants and cash-rich companies who file routine appeals, thwarting SC’s objective to decide cases of national interest
  3. SC: The Supreme Court of India must cease to be a mere court of appeal to litigants and a daily mentor of the Government
  4. Directed the Law Commission of India to file a report within a year on whether it is permissible to stop the filing of all appeals which are not of national and public importance
  5. Context: The judgment follows Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur’s emotional appeal in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the work burden of judges has become humanly unbearable
Judicial Pendency

Lower courts settled 21,000 pending cases last month

  1. Context: The latest figures collated by the National Judicial Data Grid
  2. Clearing: Out of the over 21 lakh cases pending for the past 10 years across India, the subordinate judiciary settled nearly 21,000 of them last month
  3. New cases: But even as the judiciary went about clearing the backlog, 5,77,834 fresh cases were filed across subordinate courts in April
  4. Nature of cases: Out of the 20,835 cases settled by the lower judiciary in April, 13,645 were criminal in nature and 7,190 civil
Judicial Pendency

Most death row convicts first-time offenders

  1. Context: Death Penalty India Report
  2. Findings: Most death row inmates in India are poor, uneducated and first-time offenders
  3. A total of 241 out of the 385 death row inmates in India are first-time offenders
  4. Around 60% of the prisoners did not complete secondary education and nearly 75% belonged to economically vulnerable sections
  5. Education levels affect the extent to which the death row prisoners are able to understand details of the case filed against them
  6. Lack of education results in alienation from the system
Judicial Pendency

Supreme Court is disposing pending cases at a faster rateSC Judgements

  1. Context: Data released by the Ministry of Law and Justice
  2. Numbers: In 2015, the top court disposed 47,424 cases compared to 45,042 in 2014 and 40,189 in 2013
  3. Measures: Regular hearings by 5 & 3-judge benches of SC being scheduled every Monday and Friday from 2pm to 4pm from 11 January onwards
  4. These are a part of CJI Thakur’s plan to reduce backlog of cases
Judicial Pendency

SC refuses to disclose data on pending verdicts

  1. Context: Bringing judiciary under the ambit of RTI Act
  2. The News: The SC dismissed a plea to maintain the data on its pending judgments and make the information public under the RTI Act
  3. Background: Earlier, Central Information Commission gave a decision that SC shall disclose the number of pending or reserved judgments
  4. The Commission’s decision was upheld by a single judge of the Delhi HC
  5. Criticism: In 2001, SC itself ruled that the confidence of litigants would be shaken if judgments were kept pending for years

Overcoming the backlog of cases: Judicial reform

A British citizen, Will Pike was paralysed during the 2008 Taj Hotel blasts in 2008. Suing the hotel group for compensation, he wanted the trial to take place in London rather than in India. Accepting his contention, the London court allowed the matter, specifically stating that the trial in India could take some ‘twenty years’. This is a befitting example of the pendency in Indian judicial system and how it needs to be urgently addressed.


The graphic below states the number of cases pending before the Courts in India. Currently, about 3.25 crore cases are pending in the Indian courts and Judges fear that this number might escalate to about 4 crore cases by the end of 2016. This problem gets escalated due to the crunch of Judges at all levels of Judiciary as seen in the graphic below.


Timely justice is an integral part of access of justice and this huge backlog of cases amounts to denial and derailment of justice. This article will look into the proposed reforms for addressing this systemic problem.


The 245th Law Commission Report on “Arrears and Backlogs: Creating Additional Judicial (W)omanpower has recommended the following measures

1. Calculating Adequate Judge Strength through a more scientific analysis of data – In this context, the Commission has negated a simplistic method like Judge-Population ratio (Number of judges required per million people) in favour of a Rate of Disposal Method.

In the Rate of Disposal Method, one looks at the current rate at which judges dispose of cases. Then, given that the institutions and disposal rate remain the same, the Courts would need how many more additional judges to keep pace with the new filings in Court so that the newly instituted cases do not add to the existing backlog.

2. Judges to be appointed on a Priority basis: India currently has 1/5th of the number of judges it needs and thus, the Judges need to be appointed on a priority basis.

3. Increasing the age of retirement for Subordinate Court Judges to 62 years.

4. Creation of Special Courts for traffic/police challan cases: They constitute about 37.4% of the existing pendency before the subordinate courts.

5. Provision for staff and infrastructure

6. Periodic Needs Assessment by High Courts: Monitoring the rate of institution and disposal of cases and revising the adequate strength of Judges since a High Court is equipped with all the information relating to the subordinate courts in the State. The Malimath Committee had recommended setting up of Vigilance Cells in each district by the High Court to monitor the performance of subordinate judicial officers.

7. Uniform data collection and data management methods : to bring in greater transparency.

8. Need for a system-wide reform: The Commission has recommended the following:
● Greater encouragement to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Lok Adalats <Can you tell us the difference among various types of ADRs, mediation, arbitration and conciliation? Answer in comments>
● Setting up non-mandatory time frames and performance benchmarks for resolution of different types of cases based on rational criteria.


9. Use of Technology : Has been recommended by the 230th Law Commission Report and the Malimath Committee Report to
(a) Club cases filed on similar points of law, which can be decided on the basis of a single judgment.
(b) Track old cases, which have become infructuous and dispose them off quickly
(c) Setting up E-Courts and ushering in E-filing. Has received a major boost under the e-Courts Integrated Mission Mode Project.

10. Creation of All-India Judicial Service: Provided for under Article 312 of the Indian Constitution. The idea has been mooted by various bodies including the First Judicial Pay Commission and accepted by the Supreme Court. Art 2012 proposal regarding creation of this service has not received responses from all States and this proposal continues to be hanging in the air <can you tell us the procedure of creation of new all India service? Answer in comments>.


Many steps are currently being taken by the Government and the Courts to address this problem.

  • Monthly National Lok Adalats are carried out for expeditious disposal of claims.
  • In March 2016, the Monthly Lok Adalat disposed of about 1.5 lakh cases and settled claims worth Rs. 100 crores <Where can one appeal against the decision of Lok Adalats. Also tell us about the jurisdiction of Lok Adalats. Answer in comments>
  • In criminal cases, the setting-up of fast-track Courts and “plea bargaining” have further expedited matters <Can you tell us what’s plea bargaining? Answer in comments>
  • The e-courts project, aimed at providing better Court management and a database of all pending cases with easier filing of important documents is underway.
  • Moreover, the National Litigation Policy 2015 is awaiting ministerial approval and seeks to reverse the trend of Government being the biggest litigant <did you know one of the argument for rejecting NJAC was that govt was the biggest litigant, therefore can have no role in appointment of judges>.

However, in view of the burgeoning backlog and urgency of reducing backlog, the efforts need to be severely expedited.

P.S. This article is published with inputs from a CD user  Joyousjojo (name changed on request).

P.P.S. If you want to write explainers for CD, mail us your explainer at hello@civilsadily.com

Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
0 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
0 Comment authors
Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of